Everyone will experience a level of anxiety at some point in their lives - it’s an inescapable part of being human. From an evolutionary perspective, anxiety was necessary for survival. It helped our ancestors to stay alert in dangerous situations and have appropriate reactions, like fight or flight. However, for some people, this natural emotional and physical state can become all pervasive, uncontrollable and a hindrance in everyday life. Unlike our ancestors, we don’t need to live in constant fear for our safety, but that feeling of a racing mind, shortness of breath and butterflies in the stomach can still be useful, like helping is to prepare for a job interview or public speaking.
But for people that suffer from anxiety, they’ll tell you straight up that there is nothing normal or helpful about what they think and feel. Living with anxiety is like fronting up for that job interview every single day, but instead of feeling that rush of relief when it’s all over, it just goes on and on and the thoughts that constantly roll through the mind like “what if this, what if that?” are exhausting. “What if I’m not good enough”, “what if I make a mistake”, “what if I’m not doing it right, what then?”.
For some people, it can be almost impossible to tell that they have anxiety. In someone who is highly-functioning, anxiety can easily be misinterpreted as a drive for perfectionism, a simple lack of confidence, intolerance or impatience or maybe you can’t even tell at all. On the outside it’s like a duck gliding over the top of a pond, what nobody sees is that underneath its legs are moving like crazy, just to keep it all above water. Many people with anxiety describe a deep, dark feeling in the pit of their stomach of pure dread. It feels incredibly real and true, like a premonition that something horrible is about to happen but they can’t tell you what. This in-turn can manifest as anger, irritability, a lack of concentration or depression (anxiety and depression can often go hand in hand).
As humans we are trained to listen and trust the messages that our body sends us, and we treat those signals and feelings as ‘gospel’. You might not realise it, but your thoughts are actually based on feelings. If you are suffering from anxiety and you get that familiar feeling of dread and fear, you’ll have a thought that seemingly comes out of the blue, like “how am I going to cope today?” or “I’ll never get through the day”, and of course you believe it. Your body talks to you every day and tells you the truth, why is this any different? Without realising it, you’ll find yourself behaving as if the thought is true, struggling through the day and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But what if you could challenge that thought? Slow down and ask, “why do I think this?”. What was the feeling that came right before the thought and what evidence do you have that the thought is true? It’s likely that you don’t really have any evidence for the feeling or the thought – You’ve made it through every other day, why not this day? Don’t get me wrong though, this is not easy, and you can’t learn this skill overnight. But online programs like Mood Gym can help you start that process.
Sometimes, there is not much point throwing a drowning person a book on how to swim, they need a life-jacket right in that moment, so recognize if you are in too deep and seek out a professional. This won’t necessarily mean turning to medication if you don’t want to, but the professional can guide you through the process of challenging your feelings and thoughts until you get the hang of it on your own.
Anxiety is not a way of life and it’s probably holding you back from reaching your full potential, so don’t put it off and just take the right first step for you.